Down and Dirty with the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet

Internet tablets are a relatively new breed of devices that pretty much started with Nokia’s 770. More than a PDA but not quite a palmtop, these tablets were designed for quick and easy Internet usage at the coffee table or the local Starbucks.
So let’s dig in, shall we?
Nokia N800 Internet Tablet Thumbnail

The N800 At A Glance
Nokia N800 Internet Tablet
Nokia N800 Specs
It certainly looks good on paper. The N800 is armed with a TI OMAP2420 processor running at 330 mhz, 128 megabytes of RAM, 2 SD memory card slots, a large 4.1″ widescreen touchscreen display at 800×480 pixels, a pop-out VGA camera/webcam, and stereo speakers. It runs the Internet Tablet OS 2007, which is basically another name for Maemo 3.0.
Box Design and Contents
Nokia’s not going to win any design awards for this box. But it’s what’s inside that counts – and in this box, we see:
  • The Nokia N800 Internet Tablet
  • An Extra Stylus
  • A Wired Headset
  • A BP-5L 1500 mAh Battery
  • A Cloth Carrying Case
  • A Travel Charger
  • A USB Cable
  • A 128MB MiniSD Card and SD Adapter
  • A Charger
  • A Quick Start Guide and Warranty Sheet
More or less the same odds and ends that you would expect with a high-end Nseries phone.
Physical Appearance/Hardware
The Nokia N800′s front face includes the arrow keys, speakers, and selection/confirm button, as well as the back, options, and task switching keys.
On top, there’s the volume control buttons, power key, and fullscreen mode key. Not to mention the microphone.
The left side of the device hides the pop-out VGA camera (you press the camera to pop it out of the case). On the other end, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, Nokia’s power plug jack, and a handy space for the stylus.
The bottom of the N800 has a pull-out stand that lets you prop the device up on a table or other flat surface. You’ll also need to do this to access the primary SD card slot.
Finally, the onboard stylus is slightly weighted and has a nice heft, compared to say, a Palm stylus.
Nokia N800 Internet Tablet PortsNokia N800 Internet Tablet CameraNokia N800 Internet Tablet Top View
Powering Up the N800
Booting the device took a good 29 seconds.
Usability and User Interface
The user interface is easy to navigate – that is, once you figure out what the icons mean. Nokia is famous for creating simple GUIs on its mobile phones but the N800 feels intuitive only after you’ve explored it on your own. Text labels would’ve been nice.
Since everything is designed to be accessed with the stylus, icons and buttons are a simple point and tap.
Entering text can be done in one of two ways: you can opt for the handwriting recognition feature and use the stylus as a pen, or you can just use the onscreen keyboard.
Handwriting recognition was a bit of a miss the first time I used it – but there’s a “Teach Handwriting” feature that lets the N800 adapt to your style of writing.
I found the letters for the stylus keyboard to be rather small.
However, you can also activate the finger keyboard entry mode by tapping a text field with your finger instead of the stylus. This presents you with an almost full-screen keyboard which lets you use your fingers (although the spacebar is located in an odd spot in the corner, next to the Z) or the stylus. Thanks to Ricky from Symbian-Guru for that one.
Entering data via onscreen keyboard.
One touch of the left navbar’s third icon brings up what I would term the Start Menu. Similar to the Windows counterpart, this is a one-stop menu where you can access everything: applications, games, control panel options, search, and help.
After booting, the OS loads up the Home screen. This is a customized window that displays a Google searchbar, RSS feeds, the radio, and contacts by default – but the nice feature is that you can add different applets to the window and drag them around to wherever you feel like it.
Here I’m adding the clock to the Home screen. Note that you can’t overlap an applet over another one. Too bad, really.
Nokia N800 Internet Tablet Home Applets
At a weight of about 8 ounces, the N800 weighs about as much as your favorite cheeseburger. It certainly does feel heavy on the hand after prolonged use without the stand, but this is really overshadowed by a bigger problem: the Internet Tablet is not for left-handers. It’s designed so that you can use the arrow keys/confirm button with your left hand, while typing/writing with your right. In certain applications and instances this is just plain horrible.
If you’re a lefty I suggest you give an N800 a test run before you buy it.
Having the arrow keys and other buttons clustered on the right side of tablet also makes the Nokia N800 a poor choice for arcade-style gaming. Games which make use of a mouse or stylus, however, work well (ScummVM for example).

Applications, Games, and other Fun Stuff
Now this is where the N800 shines. Since the tablet runs Maemo, a Linux platform, you’ve got an operating system with almost unlimited potential for applications and games. There’s already a thriving community on with a growing amount of user-provided software, and dare I say it’s one reason to go out and buy an N800. After all, how many other portable devices offer a Linux-based OS? The GP2X?
The N800 comes standard with a host of useful applications (Media Player, Web Browser, Instant Messaging, Email Client, Calculator, Notes, and PDF Reader) and games (Chess, Blocks, Mahjong, and Marbles among them), but you can do even better.
If you’re into using the Nokia N800 as an entertainment device, there’s plenty of open-source and freeware games out there – while poking around, I found: a Shufflepuck Cafe clone called TuxPuck, ScummVM (LucasArts adventure game emulator – ever heard of Monkey Island?), a port of Doom, a Game Boy Advance emulator, and some crazy parking game called, “Crazy Parking.”
To find compatible software, the N800 uses “catalogs,” which are one-stop sources for applications. Once you’ve added a catalog to the Application Manager, you can browse a listing of software available from that catalog, or check for updates on any apps you’ve already installed.
One catalog that should be added immediately is the one. Most, if not all software for the tablet series are located on this site.
Now, if you’re trying to install a piece of software written for Internet Tablet OS 2007 – it’s a one-click install, although you might have to add a catalog or two. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of software that’s purely OS 2007. Most of the software out there is for OS 2006, the primary operating system of the Nokia 770 (the N800′s predecessor).
And here’s where the fun begins!
After adding the Maemo main catalog to my N800, I started poking through various applications (okay, more like games). After checking out Doom, I decided to give it a try and proceeded to install it, only to be hit by a “missing library: libxau0″ error. No problem, I thought, I’ll just go check out the Maemo catalog, download it, and everything will be fine and dandy.
No dice. Couldn’t find it on the main catalog, as well as the “power-user” catalog that’s also on the site. Google wasn’t too useful either, unless you count finding out that a lot of other people were having the same problem. Eventually I gave up and tried to install some other games. Same deal, same missing library error.
It turns out that OS 2006 includes certain libraries that OS 2007 does not, which, when literally translated from Geek Speak to Simple English means “you’re screwed.” I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon trying to find libxau0 (this will provide me with several days worth of posts I’m sure – look for new How-Tos in the future!) that was supposed to be a cakewalk – just add the right catalog and it’ll show up there! Of course, life is never that simple.
Eventually I found that it’s just easier to install certain applications that already include the missing library. My question: how is any normal person supposed to figure this stuff out on their own?
In my travels, I did find a nice quote about the N800, in response to a user attempting to install an application on their own and failing miserably:
“Very common problem with Linux based system.
End user looking to explore these devices should be prepared to dig into tons of documents and do some compilation themselves. Otherwise, end user must stick to whatever that is provided, or stay away from them if possible.” – Forum post from MobileBurn
That just about sums it up.
The moral of the story is, if you’re happy with the basic applications that the N800 provides then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you’re the customizing, power-user type that wants to fill up their N800s with as much “stuff” as possible, be prepared to dive into the world of Linux, dependencies, repositories, and other big words that would probably be worth a lot of points in Scrabble.
Stereo Speakers and Music
One word: wow. I was really impressed with the sound quality from the N800. The best set of speakers I’ve ever heard on a portable device, ever.
The included Media Player is basically a clone of Nokia’s Symbian music player and clunky at best. Creating and editing playlists is just a pain in the butt. Get an open-source media player instead.
Memory Space and Storage
The N800 does have 2 separate SD card slots, one located on the bottom of the device (behind the stand), and the other inside the battery cover. One nice feature is that the device lets you use the internal SD card as virtual memory for applications.
Internally, the N800 tablet includes 256 megabytes of flash memory.
The Stylus
You can’t buy a stylus anywhere as of this writing (that’s including the Nokia site), so don’t lose both of the included ones. On the other hand, I found that the Palm stylus fits snugly into the N800 stylus port.
Battery Life
This spot is going to be reserved for future use. I couldn’t do a very accurate test for battery life, so I’m holding off writing about it until later.
All in all, the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet is an impressive device that needs some help in the newbie usability department. It has a lot going for it: great browser, lots of applications and games, excellent speakers, and a vey functional input system. But to use the N800 at its full potential, you’ve got to be at least somewhat computer savvy.
Final verdict: Highly Recommended if you’re a geek, only Somewhat Recommended if you’re not.